Neal Spencer (Keeper, Department of Ancient Egypt & Sudan), and Michaela Binder (bioarchaeologist)
The wind howled this week, yet important and exciting new evidence continued to emerge from town and cemetery. Up on the desert escarpment, Mohamed Saad discovered our first intact burial of the season, just beside pyramid chapel G322. In a shallow pit, adjacent to the north wall of the pyramid, a child of only 1-2 years was buried. Directly underneath, a second infant was placed on a layer of large schist stones. Based on the size of the long bones and development of tooth crowns, the earlier child was likely born prematurely. Whether these burials are contemporary with the New Kingdom pyramid tomb is unknown, as neither was accompanied by grave goods. However, subsidiary burials around – or within – Egyptian funerary monuments, are found elsewhere, for example at Tombos.
We have just commenced excavation of the shaft of G322, but perhaps more exciting is a spread of pottery in the courtyard of the chapel. What will this tell us about funerary rituals at this tomb?
A short distance to the east, Michelle and her team are now over 6m deep in the shaft. More sandstone blocks continue to be revealed, some decorated. Most exciting, however, was the discovery of fragments from faience shabtis, found discarded in the shaft, left behind by (ancient?) looters.
A surface find in the first days had given us the name of an individual whose name ended in –ser. Four of the new shabtis complete the picture: it is ‘the Deputy, Paser’. A fifth shabti may have belonged to his wife. We cannot be sure this is where Paser was buried, but it now seems very likely. The most prominent Egyptian official in Upper Nubia under Ramses III, he is likely to have sought a grandiose tomb overlooking the town in which he held office. The pyramid would likely have been visible from the town, and to those approaching from the desert. A doorjamb, which seems to bear his name, was found dumped in the tomb to the east (G321). More evidence is needed to confirm whether this was his tomb.
Moving down into the town, we finished the data-capture for 3D modelling of the West Gate, a formal monument that proclaimed Egypt’s power over Nubia – which individuals like Paser were charged with administering. Alongside the discovery of four new inscriptions not recorded by the Egypt Exploration Society, we have been documenting remnants of colour that will help reconstruct the original appearance of this entrance into the town – the red flesh of the horses, the yellow fittings for the chariot, or the black skin of the vanquished Nubian prisoners.
Out in the western suburb, the completion of recording in several houses has provided us with a chance to go deeper. In three places, we are now digging under floor layers, into the thick rubbish deposits on which the suburb was built. Not all are happy about this: it means a mass of ceramics will have to be processed and studied.
In two of the sondages, dozens of seal impressions came to light – with royal names, depictions of gods and other texts, which will need careful study. The rubbish – its charcoal, phytoliths, animal bone and objects – will tell us much about life at ancient Amara West. These are the remnants of what people used, made and consumed, and then purposefully discarded.
In the final days of excavating house D11.2, Anna uncovered a cache of stone tools, tucked behind a specially modelled door buttress. Why were these tools being tucked out of sight? It is rare that the archaeologist encounters such a deliberate placing of objects by those who used an ancient house.
House D12.12, under excavation by David Fallon, has thrown up a feature so far unique at Amara West. This house featured a large main room with mastaba -bench (later divided in two), small ‘back rooms’ leading off it, and an entrance corridor with at least two ovens. The northeastern room was fitted with a staircase.
The intriguing feature is a small brick structure erected in front of the staircase. Carefully plastered, is this a form of low platform, perhaps similar to the lit clos known from contemporary Deir el-Medina? We can only speculate, as no painted decoration or cult objects have been found.
Archaeological fieldwork is characterised by massive accumulations of data, in both hard copy and digital form. Over recent years, we’ve seen our workers become increasingly part of the same global phenomenon. What’s App messages are exchanged between those in different parts of the other site, while selfies and group pictures are a regular occurrence during breaks in the excavating.
Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest